THE PEACE PRIZE AND THE POWER OF WORDS
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Let’s examine the distinction between words and deeds—which is at the heart of the controversy over whether President Obama should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. “Where are the accomplishments?” some ask. “He deserves it for the tone he sets and the aspirations he communicates,” others observe.
What did the Nobel committee say? According to The New York Times, the Committee “praised Mr. Obama for his tone, his preference for negotiation and multilateral diplomacy and his vision of a cooperative world of shared values, shorn of nuclear weapons.” A direct quote from the committee said that “only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.” In this case, it is his words, rather than Obama’s actions thus far, that appear to have earned him this prestigious prize.
There is no doubt that the Nobel Peace Prize is honoring intangibles and encouraging—if not putting pressure on the young President— to fulfill the expectations that he has set through his speeches and other communications about bringing world peace through diplomacy. But what many seem to have missed is that the words—and the courage to speak them—ARE the deeds. Whether his Cairo speech or his success in engaging Iran for the first time, for example, deserves the prize is a matter of opinion. Many of those who believe the President deserved the honor also acknowledge that he must still earn it. But fundamentally, without the right words, nothing can happen. Thoughts must be communicated, if action is to follow—and courageous words from leaders of nations are at a premium. Of course, so is follow-through.
“Whatever word we utter should be done with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill,” said Buddha.
We all recognize that words motivate actions. Words profile our character. Words define who we are and what we believe. Between individuals, it is the words we use with each other that shape our relationships…or end them. There is a big difference in saying to a significant other “when I look at you, time stands still” or “your face would stop a clock.” Certainly, the latter example is a far reach from someone on the world stage—or even a global corporation or small company. Candidates have lost elections and corporate leaders have lost their jobs as much for insensitive words as wrong actions. That’s why they watch what they say to shareholders, constituents and customers and, in fact, retain professionals to help them.
According to pastor and best-selling author Joel Osteen, “You can change your world by changing your words.” This is precisely what Mr. Obama is trying to do. His self-deprecating acceptance of the Prize underscores that he is only in Phase I, and there is much to be accomplished. Obviously, the committee felt the Prize would enhance the stature of his mission with others in the world upon whom his success depends. But there is no success without conditioning the market. Franklin Roosevelt understood that exceptionally well when he said, more than three-quarters of a century ago—in the depths of the Great Depression—during his first inaugural address: , “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
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